The Red Box Blog

Ramblings about D&D.

Good Riddance to the OGL


There was a huge outcry when Wizards announced the changes to its D&D license that would be coming with 4th Edition. Gamers who loved the third party products wanted nothing more than for the status quo to continue. The Open Gaming License was a good thing for D&D fans and a good thing for many small publishers, but it was bad for Wizards and it was really bad for gaming.

Oh I can already hear guys like this screaming at their monitors. But before I explain why the OGL was bad for gaming, I am going to start with the low hanging fruit, and explain why it was bad for Wizards.

TSR went under in large part because they made an absolutely insane number of products for 2nd Edition. They made something like 13 campaign settings, countless splat books, and enough modules to drown in. Worse, the production qualities seen in most of these were fantastic, dwarfing anything they had done before.

Now you don’t buy out a bankrupt company without a plan, and clearly Wizards had a plan. Their plan was to sell a limited number of rule books and a few high quality modules. The OGL was brought in because Wizards recognized that D&D fans were used to having broader selection of products than they were willing to produce. They wanted to be cautious, and needed a few holes plugged.

I would venture to guess that Wizards misjudged the amount of content that would get made under the OGL by a factor of 100. What they were hoping for was a handful of small game companies to come along and collectively produce a few dozen modules, a couple campaign settings, and some niche rule books. What they got instead was a tsunami.

Almost every game company of every size started producing d20 material. Countless companies were founded for the sole purpose of creating d20 material. Instead of complimenting Wizards’ core game, the best of these companies were competing with it.

While fans of Pathfinder consider its success to be a blemish on 4E, you can be sure that is not how executives at Wizards see it; to them Pathfinder’s success shows the absolute insanity of making your game OGL. While every new edition of D&D has had players that didn’t want to upgrade, never before have the hold outs had the option of continuing to buy new releases for the old edition.

If you couldn’t believe the restrictions that Wizards was throwing at publishers for 4E, this is why. They only ever wanted a small amount of help, and this time out that’s what they are getting.

But what about for the industry? I did say this was bad for all of gaming. To understand what I mean you really have to look to the last time D&D was more popular than it was under 3.x – the 80s. In the 80s the success of D&D inspired a lot of small publishers to put out role playing games. Yeah, a lot of them sucked and a lot of them have been completely forgotten, but their presence was very important.

You see, when you have scores of little companies putting out hundreds of rpgs, new ideas are being generated. And the best of those ideas launched successful games and companies. By having many successful games and even more importantly, successful new games, gaming in general is made much richer.

How many people said upon first playing 3E, “This feels a lot like Role Master.”? If AD&D had been produced under an OGL then ICE would have been too busy making AD&D products to make their own games.

If you have ever wondered why 4E borrows from MMOs while 3E and 2E borrowed from other rpgs, look no further than the OGL; the OGL killed the game industry, so there was nothing there worth borrowing.

And finally, as a preemptive answer to potential critics trying to throw games at me that are not new (aka existed pre-2000), not successful enough, not plentiful enough or are just OGL releases, come up with a list from the past decade of new games that matches this list of games 1981 – 1991

  • GURPS
  • Star Wars
  • Palladium
  • Paranoia
  • Shadow Run
  • Champions
  • Role Master
  • Call of Cthulu
  • Twilight 2000
  • Toon
  • Marvel Super Heroes
  • Amber
  • Vampire
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September 30, 2010 - Posted by | 3.x, 4E, Dungeons and Dragons, RPGs | , , , ,

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